NASA announced today that it has awarded three massive contracts to develop lunar landing systems in an effort to return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface as soon as 2024, as Ars Technica reports.
“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
SpaceX received a $135 million contract to further develop the Super Heavy rocket-powered Starship. The massive spacecraft, currently in development, could one day carry up to 100 passengers to the Moon and beyond.
A lunar optimized Starship can fly many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return pic.twitter.com/Zpkldayy85
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 30, 2020
SpaceX’s “proposal included an in-space propellent transfer demonstration and uncrewed test landing,” wrote Bridenstine in a follow-up tweet.
“SpaceX is really good at flying and testing — and failing and fixing,” Bridenstine told Ars Technica‘s Eric Berger. “People are going to look at this and say, ‘My goodness, we just saw Starship blow up again. Why are you giving them a contract?’ The answer is because SpaceX is really good at iteratively testing and fixing.”
As for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s qualities as a leader, Bridenstine sounded supportive.
“I fully believe that Elon Musk is going to be successful,” he told Berger. “He is focused like a laser on these activities.”
A $579 million contract was also awarded to Blue Origin. The Jeff Bezos-led space company announced its Blue Moon lunar lander in May of last year, which NASA is planning to use as a way to descend down to the Moon’s surface.
NASA also awarded $253 million contract to space company Dynetics, a partnership with Sierra Nevada Corporation, to build a reusable lander that could be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket.
Dynetics’ “two-stage lander concept includes a single element with ascent” and “descent capabilities and a unique crew cabin that sits low to the Moon’s surface,” according to a tweet by Bridenstine.
NASA is giving itself ten months to assess which contracts to go ahead with to finalize the development of a future lunar lander.
READ MORE: NASA awards lunar lander contracts to Blue Origin, Dynetics—and Starship [Ars Technica]
More on Starship: SPACEX MANAGES TO TEST STARSHIP WITHOUT FAILING CATASTROPHICALLY